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Monessen controller removed by council

MONESSEN – Two months after Maria Scuteri was appointed the city’s new controller, she abruptly lost her job.

Mayor Matt Shorraw made a motion at Tuesday’s council meeting to declare the positions of both controller and treasurer vacant, citing failures to qualify for office with the submission of necessary affidavits of residency and bonds prior to taking the oath of office.

Scuteri was appointed controller last December after Wayne Vlasic stepped down to become a magisterial district judge. The city’s treasurer, Gerald Saksun, has served in that post for nearly a decade.

Motions to vacate both seats passed, but so did a motion to reappoint Saksun to the treasurer’s post, contingent upon him providing the necessary affidavit of residency and proof of bond.

A motion to do the same for Scuteri, supported by council members Tony Orzechowski and Lois Thomas, was shot down by Shorraw and council members Gilbert Coles and Don Gregor.

Before council voted on either measure, Scuteri tearfully addressed council.

“I have served on the (Monessen) school board for 14 years, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

“We had our disagreements, but we got things done. Things aren’t being discussed by this council before items appear on the agenda. I expressed interest in this position and never expected to get wrapped up all the politics. I’m going to leave it up to you guys to make a decision,” Scuteri said before she left the meeting.

Orzechowski asked council to rescind the motions declaring the controller and treasurer positions vacant.

“This is asinine,” he said. “Why don’t we simply ask Maria and Jerry to just supply the necessary affidavits and move on? Maria was already sworn in. This could end up in the courts if you remove her.”

He also accused Shorraw of withholding information from the rest of the council.

“Why weren’t Lois Thomas and I informed about this before the meeting?” he asked. “We just learned about this tonight when we looked at the agenda. You had no problem reappointing Jerry. Why aren’t we appointing Maria?”

On Wednesday, Shorraw said he did not feel Scuteri was the best person for the position, noting he and Gregor both believe she “has been too political with her remarks and action.”

“I disagreed with that, so I voted to seek someone else who is more qualified. Hopefully we can find someone who is a (certified public accountant) and is more neutral,” he said.

He added that he did not believe the city would face any legal action because Third Class City Code requires council to remove someone from office if they have not met the requirements. Officials will have 30 days to appoint someone to the post, he said, noting he’s had two people interested in the controller position reach out to him so far.

“I told them to submit their letters and resumes to the city administrator,” Shorraw said.

Also, during the meeting, Coles submitted $106,000 in bills to be paid.

When Coles was asked how much money is in the general fund, he lashed out at Orzechowski.

“Why are you always nitpicking everything? If you want information, see the city administrator,” he said.

Coles also took issue with Monessen resident Pino Cianflone, who criticized Coles and Shorraw for missing meetings for 18 months.

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll meet you outside after this meeting,” Coles told Cianflone.

In other business, the council voted to:

  • Appoint Delmar Hepple to the position of municipal fire chief;
  • Hire John Frederick as a full-time patrolman with the Monessen Police Department;
  • Appoint Ted Harhai to fill the vacant position on the Refuse Authority until the term ends on Dec. 31, 2023’
  • Adopt a social media policy governing city employees;
  • Accept letters of interest and applications for the position of emergency management coordinator for the city.

In addition, Shorraw issued a proclamation congratulating Charles Keller for 50 years of service with the Monessen Volunteer Fire Department.

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Clare Drive repairs continue while some residents remain cut off from homes

Some residents of Clare Drive in South Strabane Township remained closed off from their homes Wednesday after part of the road collapsed earlier in the week.

However, Tuesday’s evacuation was not a mandatory one, and some residents elected to stay.

“We advised the residents of the issue at hand so they were informed and could make their decision on what to do,” said South Strabane fire Chief Scott Reese.

Jennie and Clarence Reeger were some of the few who decided not to evacuate. The said they chose to stay and take care of their dogs.

“If it wasn’t for the animals, we’d be out of here,” Clarence said.

They said the township offered to pay for a hotel, but accommodations could not be made for their pets.

Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said she stayed home for the same reason.

Residents who did evacuate either went to hotels or made other arrangements, according to Township Manager Brandon Stanick.

“The township is going to help them as much as we can,” Stanick said.

While PennDOT and South Strabane Township continue to rebuild the road, officials are allowing residents through on a case by case basis, but it is not clear when there will be a lane officially open for traffic.

Scott Faieta, an assistant construction engineer with PennDOT, said the goal was to have the lane open Wednesday.

“That’s likely not going to happen,” Faieta said.

It could open today, but more rainfall Wednesday evening may complicate matters.

“It would delay us a couple more days,” Faieta said.

According to an update posted Wednesday afternoon on the township’s Facebook page, crews working at the scene Wednesday made “significant progress in stabilizing” the roadway. The post states that a single lane will be open for emergency services, and that the police department will be on site overnight, Wednesday to today, for “safety purposes.”

“At this point in time, it is anticipated that two lanes will be reestablished on Clare Drive before tomorrow evening,” the post reads.

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No regrets: Burgettstown man's love for hometown stronger than Hollywood

The bags were packed and they were ready to go.

The house hunting had already begun and the dreams of living in sunny California while chasing the opportunity of a lifetime seemed unimaginable at first to Troy Elich.

But he was ready to try.

He colored his hair, ridding himself of a few gray strands that began to pop up. He whitened his teeth because, well, didn’t the stars in Hollywood have the most beautiful teeth?

He had already begun losing weight because the cameras always put on 10 pounds, or so they say.

This was his big break, an opportunity to become possibly the next generation’s best comedian, someone like George Carlin or maybe Steve Martin. Elich was musically inclined, just like Steve Martin, who’s banjo riffs we’re so blended into his routine.

Or maybe, as his agent told him, Elich could carve an acting career if he were talented enough and worked hard enough in his upcoming acting classes.

He knew what he had in Burgettstown, a small, knock-around place that offered him a simple and pressure-free life.

Mention his name around town – in fact, all you needed to say was, “Troy” – and most people would know who you were talking about.

Sure, it would be hard to leave their friends but his wife, Jaclyn, and children, Sammy and Abby, were OK with leaving. Maybe they envisioned their father becoming a big star, or maybe even getting a star on the walk of fame someday.

Or maybe it was something more simple, not having to shovel snow anymore, or having an entire ocean to play in for most of the year. That was all right with them.

Big breaks rarely come in this business. Just ask the tens of thousands who have had their dreams crushed in Hollywood.

Troy was in his 40s now, young at heart, but considered old for the glamorous style of California. An opportunity like this probably would never come again so this would be his turn to grab on, shake the tree and see what falls off.

Except ...

There was this small flame in the pit of his stomach, growing larger as the day to leave approached. By the time the suitcases were packed, it had burst into forest fire strength.

And Troy knew he had to face the truth.

“I finally realized, and I’m not sure I ever told my wife this, but I just couldn’t imagine myself not going to Burgettstown football games on a Friday night,” said Elich. “That’s really screwed up. Isn’t it? They pay me $30 a night to announce these games. I was passing up a chance to work in Hollywood.

“And I don’t regret it at all.”

The music man

Elich graduated from Burgettstown High School in 1994 and spent some time in college. A good athlete, he toyed with the idea of sports, but his real love was with music and that’s why he abandoned athletics.

He even considered becoming an air-traffic controller and possibly an airplane pilot. But, again, the pull of music was too much.

“My earliest memories where of being in a band,” said Elich. “So when I had the opportunity to join the Vogues, I was there.”

Troy‘s father, Stanley, got the whole process started. Stanley was a church singer early on and was in a band called, “Black Velvet.” During a local show of mid-level bands, Stanley made an impression on the members of the Vogues. When an opening occurred, the Vogues finally made the connection with Stanley and he became part of the band. Later, Stanley bought the franchise and brought in his son.

“He had his first album of church songs at 13 or 14,” said Troy. “He would play six or seven days a week. He played at this night club in Weirton called, “The Blast.” He would sing from 10 to 2 and then come home and sleep for a few hours, then get up and go to work at Weirton Steel. He was making $100 a night in the 70s, which was a lot of money back then.”

Stanley wowed his neighbors with some of the newer technology he bought in the 1970s.

“We had a garage door opener,” said Troy. “And the neighbors were amazed. They’d say, ‘So you press this button and the door goes up? When it’s snowing or raining, you don’t have to get out of your car to open the garage door.’ We had one of the first VCRs and it must’ve weighed 150 pounds and you could only record an hour on it. You could be out and still record “Dallas?” Amazing.”

Troy always knew he wanted a career in music. His family caught onto this at an early age.

“I would sit in my living room playing records,” Troy said. “I would sit on the recliner backwards, facing the back rest, and that would be my drum set. And I would have these two wooden spoons, which I turned upside down and those would be my drumsticks. I would play the music and pretend I was at the Civic Arena in front of 20,000 people.”

Troy never played in front of 20,000 people at the Civic Arena. He did have gigs at Burgettstown’s renowned music venue, which was then called Star Lake, and the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh. Now, as lead singer in the Vogues, Elich performs in front of 20,000 or more fans, just not at one time. His latest tour has 64 stops in 84 days.

‘I have a referee shirt’Like many young kids, Elich had a great passion for pro wrestling.

He watched all the shows and became a big fan of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, even had one of his dolls as a kid.

“I always wanted to get into the business,” Elich said, “but I didn’t know how.”

In the early 1990s, a show came to Burgettstown High School. One of the wrestlers on the card was Rob Mazzie, a Washington High School graduate.

“They were signing autographs afterwards and I went up to Rob and asked him how I could get into this,” Elich recalled. “At the time, I was 140 pounds and Rob told me I would have to bulk up by eating carbs and lifting weights. So I thought to heck with that.”

Still, Elich remained friends with Mazzie and would call him up for tickets. Elich often found himself sitting in the front row for World Wrestling Federation shows then being able to go home and watch the replay on TV with him in plain sight.

“Then Rob started running shows and I would go and do little things for him, like keeping the time and running the ring coats back to the locker room,” said Elich. “At one of them, Rob came up to me and said, ‘The referee bailed on us, so can you do this?’ Can I do this? I’ve been waiting all my life for this. I told him I have a referee shirt because I refereed parochial basketball leagues. You didn’t have to be certified for that, so I had the shirt and black pants.”

At one particular show at Robert Morris University, they put on a wrestling-boxing extravaganza. The wrestling went on at 7 p.m. for an hour, then the boxing was supposed to follow. After the wrestling show, Elich found out the boxing referee had still not shown up.

“I think at the time you had to be certified by the state boxing commission to be a referee,” Elich said. “For wrestling, any clown like me could do it. So the promoter came up to me and said, ‘Can you referee the boxing matches?’ And I looked at him like he had steam coming out of his eyeballs. I asked him if I would know who was going to win ahead of time and he said no. Then I said I can’t.

“Luckily, the boxing referee burst in right then. I was so relieved.”


Elich got his start as a public address announcer like many people do: he was asked to do something else that eventually led to it.

“The year after I graduated, the 1994-95 school year, I knew everybody up in the booth,” said Elich. “Woody Alvarez, who was Barry Alvarez‘s brother, was doing the announcing at the time. I was standing around the concession stand for the first game and he came up to me and asked if I wanted to spot for them. So I said “yes,” and I did that for the next three years.”

The spotter’s duty, among other things, is to tell the PA announcer where the football is, who had it for the offense and who made the tackle.

“Then somebody quit, and I got to be the scoreboard operator, which meant you got to sit down during games,” said Elich. “A spotter has to stand. So I was working my way up the ladder. Then Woody quit in the mid-2000s and Dave Barto took over for about four years before he quit to have more time to watch his grandchildren play sports. So, then I moved into the seat.”

That also meant basketball and even volleyball.

Elich doesn’t remember the first game, when it was or who it was against. But he did find announcing could have its downside, especially when it came to names.

“I remember calling Jake Lounder by his brother’s name, Ryan Lounder,” Elich said. “It was brutal. Jake Lounder is only the most successful quarterback in the history of the school, or at least the last 40 years, and I kept calling him Ryan. I did it again this year in the first game, giving Ryan credit for Jake’s touchdown.”

Elich didn’t have to worry about catching his mistakes. He had an entire football stadium full of Burgettstown fans to help him out.

“Sometimes, someone in the box will catch it,” Elich said. “Or I’ll get like 10 texts on my phone. Even Ryan texted me, thanking me for crediting him for that touchdown even though he graduated two years ago.”

Sometimes, a mistake pops up when you least expect it. Each year, Burgettstown hands out an Iron Man award for football and it’s announced during the game.

“So this one time, I am like Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore show that day. I just read what they put in front of me,” said Elich. “I didn’t even read it before hand, which I should have. Unfortunately, the year wasn’t changed on the paper.

“So this was 2019, and I’m reading, ‘The winner of this year’s Iron Man award for 2018, Seth Phillis,’” said Elich. “And it was in there three times. I’m saying 2018, 2018 and then I start getting all these texts asking what year I’m living in or if I’m in a time warp.”

Those mistakes are few and far between with Elich, who loves announcing because it keeps him close to the school that he loves and the sports teams he admires. He can’t think of a better way to stay close to the school.

When you ask Elich about what he thinks he will be doing in the future, it doesn’t take him very long to answer.

“The same thing.”

Canonsburg deals with illegal solicitation, scams

Canonsburg council members expressed concerns Monday about illegal solicitation and possible scams happening in residential neighborhoods in the borough.

Mayor Dave Rhome said in some cases people go door-to-door, requesting access to people’s homes. Some have been forceful, he said, making residents nervous.

“The word ‘no’ doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary,” Rhome said. “They’re very pushy and can be very persistent.”

In one recent case reported to Rhome, a man showed up at someone’s house after 10 p.m. and told the resident he needed to look at the home’s electrical power. The man allegedly requested access to the residence, and when the resident refused multiple times, the man said he would get in trouble with his boss.

Rhome said the resident reported the man didn’t have a vehicle or any company identification, and didn’t provide identification or a permit.

“We have to be vigilant for each other,” Rhome said. “They have to have a permit. We’re not trying to keep people out of town. We just want to protect our residents.”

Rhome emphasized if these solicitors do not show identification or prove they have a solicitation permit from the borough, residents should not let them in their homes and should call 911.

Borough regulations require any person or company soliciting in residential neighborhoods – with the exception of certain religious organizations – to have a permit from the borough. The permits, which allow for solicitation between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., cost $25 per person, per day, according to the borough’s human resources manager, Callie Munch.

The borough’s attorney Joseph Dalfonso said Monday he would take a look at further developing an ordinance that could provide better enforcement opportunities for the borough.

Solicitation isn’t the only means scammers are trying to take advantage of Canonsburg residents.

Police Chief Alex Coghill said recently scammers were able to use a phone number very close to the police department number and somehow get it to show up on caller ID as “Canonsburg Police.”

“They say something like, ‘There’s a warrant for your arrest and we need this much money. If you don’t give us the money we’ll arrest you,’” Coghill said. “But police departments never collect money – that’s a function of the courts.”

Coghill said his department started a new nonemergency complaint form on the department website about two weeks ago. Residents reporting nonemergency situations can fill out the form, which then goes to Coghill’s computer for him to assign.

“This gives residents another avenue to contact the police,” he said. “Residents call here a lot, but sometimes they’re embarrassed to have a police car show up or to use the 911 system for something that’s nonemergency.”

The complaint forms can be found on the department’s Facebook page or on the borough website.